Carter meets Hamas leader in Syria

April 19th, 2008 - 12:42 pm ICT by admin  

Damascus/Gaza City, April 19 (DPA) Defying the US White House, former US president Jimmy Carter held talks with chief Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus seeking to broker a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Carter and Mashaal also discussed the need to end the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the fate of an Israeli soldier who was abducted by Hamas nearly two years ago, according to a Hamas website citing Mashaal’s deputy, Musa Abu Mrazoque.

The US and Israel, who regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation, strongly objected to Carter’s meeting with Mashaal. Carter was snubbed when he visited Israel earlier this week.

Washington has sought to isolate the militant group, which controls the Gaza Strip and has regularly launched rocket attacks into southern Israel, and emphasised that Carter was not representing the US.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack has expressed US objections to the meeting, but said Carter’s effort should not lead to any confusion about US policy toward Hamas.

“I don’t think anybody is confusing the policies of the sitting US president and this government with the efforts of a private citizen, albeit a former president,” McCormack said.

US officials do not speak with anyone from Hamas nor is the militant group allowed to participate in the international peace process. President George W. Bush has demanded that Hamas renounce violence and recognise Israel’s right to exist.

Carter has said that he would raise the issue of the abducted Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and during his stop in Israel called Hamas’ rocket attacks “despicable”.

Palestinian sources close to Hamas said the two men were also discussing how to lift the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Carter met Mashaal in his house in Damascus, and no media coverage was allowed during the Carter-Mashaal talks.

Carter met lower level Hamas officials in Cairo earlier in the week before meeting Mashaal. On Friday he met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a move that also did not please Washington.

Carter and al-Assad discussed the security situation in Iraq, the Middle East peace process, the Israeli blockade of Gaza and meeting the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, Syria’s SANA news agency said.

The US has shunned Syria, accusing it of meddling in Lebanon and for failing to halt the flow of militants into Iraq.

Carter plans on flying to Saudi Arabia after Syria to meet King Abdullah and foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal.

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